Codex Aubin

Early Aztec History by Aztecs

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103. CODEX AUBIN. Histoire de la Nation Mexicaine depuis le départ d’Aztlan jusqu’à l’arrivée des Conquérants Espagnols (et au de là 1607). Manuscrit figuratif accompagné de texte en langue nahuatl ou Mexicaine suivi d’une traduction en français par Feu J[oseph] M[arius] A[lexis] Aubin. Reproduction du Codex de 1576 appartenant à la Collection de M.E. Eugène Goupil Ancienne Collection Aubin. Planches coloriées. Prix: 30 francs. Paris: Ernest Leroux, Editeur, 28, Rue Bonaparte, 28, 1893. [4], [i] ii-iii [1, blank], 3-63 [1, blank], pp., 158 numbered pages of hand-colored lithograph plates by Jules Desportes after preliminary leaves; paleography from codex follow the plates. 8vo (21.2 x 15.1 cm), original grey printed wrappers, title printed on spine, sewn. Very fine, preserved in blue clamshell cloth case with grey paper label on spine. Very scarce.

     “Second edition of the hand-colored lithographs by Jules Desportes of Codex Aubin with added translation of the Nahuatl text by Aubin and introductory note by E. Boban” (Glass, p. 550). This edition was limited to 170 copies. Palau 19459.

     Codex Aubin is one of the few extant published pictorial chronicles relating Aztec (Nahua or Mexica) history, beginning with their early migrations in 1168 and continuing to 1608. The timeline of the codex presents the transition of the Aztecs to submission to Spanish rule, including: departure from Aztlán; the wandering phase; Aztec conquest and settlement of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City); Spain’s conquest of the Aztecs (including the massacre by the Spanish at the temple of Tenochtitlan in 1520); and the first decades of the Spanish colonial period and assimilation into a new way of life. The codex incorporates written European text in Nahuatl while preserving the main conventions of the pictographic chronotope. The codex is a significant artifact for studying the writing system in use in Central Mexico in the sixteenth century. Codex Aubin is in the format of a European book on European paper, rather than the more traditional rolls, tiras, or screenfolds on bark or hide paper or cloth used in pre-Cortesian manuscripts. It is conjectured that Aztecs wrote this pictorial chronicle based on their collective memories, under Spanish supervision, around 1576 (the codex is also known as “The Manuscript of 1576”). Some of the illustrations in the latter part of the codex seem to support that theory. It is also possible that the pre-Cortesian portions of Codex Aubin were copied from an original codex that did not escape the fate of the biblioclasm following the Spanish Conquest that destroyed the majority of Native American codices. The impact of the Aubin-Goupil collection on the field of Mesoamerican studies has been profound.

     Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures (Codex Aubin):

A set of central Mexican annals, the Codex Aubin registers pre-Hispanic and colonial events through pictorial images and alphabetic writing in Nahuatl.... The codex opens with the twelfth-century Mexica migration from Aztlan and ends with the arrival of a new viceroy and archbishop in Mexico City in 1607–1608. The writers and painters of the Codex Aubin probably came from San Juan Tenochtitlan (an altepetl in Mexico City), and they began their work sometime after 1560, using European paper, black ink, and colored pigments. Several hands can be discerned in the manuscript, indicating that the project was a collaborative enterprise executed over many years.

Like other Nahua annals, the Codex Aubin presents an anonymous but partisan record of the past. Throughout the codex, year-glyphs provide the armature for the account.... The codex addresses themes significant to the Mexica Empire, as well as to the altepetl of San Juan Tenochtitlan. Among the more prominent events registered are the New Fire ceremony at Coatepec, the Mexica defeat at Chapultepec, the founding of Tenochtitlan, the installation and deaths of imperial tlatoque, enlargements of the Templo Mayor, comets and eclipses, the arrival of Spaniards, deaths from smallpox, local building projects, and changes in altepetl leadership.

The Codex Aubin is a small book (11 by 15 centimeters, 81 folios), but the main account has three sections, as well as an addendum that presents the succession of Mexica rulers and colonial officials. The three sections forming the body of the annals focus on the migration from Aztlan to Tenochtitlan, the imperial history of Tenochtitlan, and post-Conquest events. Each section opens with a prominent, full-page painting that parallels European codex images in function and placement....

In structure, style, and conception, the Codex Aubin intermingles elements of pre-Hispanic and European origin. Annalistic histories seem to have pre-Conquest roots; evidence suggests that annals may have been a form of record-keeping closely bound to Mexica imperial ambitions. However, the book format of the Codex Aubin, the use of images like frontispieces, and a colophonic first page all point to considerable familiarity with European books. Consequently, the Codex Aubin should be understood as a colonial account that intertwines pre-Hispanic and European-style conventions to serve indigenous ends. To date, scholarship has emphasized two aspects of the Codex Aubin: the content of its pre-Hispanic account, and the relationships between pictorial and alphabetic exposition. The Codex Aubin represents an important example of indigenous record-keeping after the Conquest because it maintains strong interests in both pre-Hispanic and Colonial events. Moreover, it offers unique insights into Nahua responses to the changing status of pictorial imagery and alphabetic writing in the late sixteenth century.

The early viceregal history of the Codex Aubin is no longer known. Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci collected the document around the mid-eighteenth century, and like many of his other manuscripts, the annals passed into the hands of J.M.A. Aubin between 1830 and 1840. Aubin produced a lithographic reproduction of the manuscript in 1850 and renamed the document after himself. The Codex Aubin was also owned by J. Desportes before reaching its present home in the British Museum (Add. Ms. 31219). The manuscript was hand-copied and partially translated numerous times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; many of these copies are currently housed in collections in Europe and Mexico.


Sold. Hammer: $750.00; Price Realized: $918.75.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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